Government & Politics

Proposal to rename The Paseo for MLK returning to Kansas City Council

A drive down The Paseo, which some want to rename for Martin Luther King Jr.

Residents and workers along The Paseo share their thoughts on whether the historic boulevard should change its name to honor civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr.
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Residents and workers along The Paseo share their thoughts on whether the historic boulevard should change its name to honor civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr.

The proposal to rename The Paseo for Martin Luther King Jr. is headed back to the Kansas City Council, a week after it was struck from an East Side economic development plan.

The council’s planning and zoning committee voted 4-0 Wednesday to send the measure to the full council for consideration. The council will take it up at its Nov. 1 meeting.

The committee set aside the recommendations of Mayor Sly James’ advisory group, which listed Kansas City International Airport and 63rd Street ahead of The Paseo after a series of public hearings on what should bear the civil rights leader’s name.

Instead, the committee sided with east side ministers who have spent the last two years advocating for The Paseo, a 10-mile boulevard that runs north-south through the heart of the city’s African-American community.

Kansas City is one of the nation’s largest municipalities without a major thoroughfare named for King.

The ministers, led by the Kansas City branch of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, gathered signatures earlier this year in an attempt to place the question on the November ballot, but did not complete their work before the Aug. 28 deadline.

Councilman Quinton Lucas originally inserted the renaming into the proposed “Revive the East Side” plan sponsored by Councilman Scott Taylor. But the provision was eliminated after protests from the park board and Mayor Sly James.

He said it was time to bring the matter to a conclusion.

“I think what you saw was a desire by the committee not to keep kicking the can down the road,” said Lucas, a candidate for mayor in 2019.

That road may still have some remaining twists and turns. The city’s development code requires that any street name change have the consent of 75 percent of the abutting property owners. Securing that consent could be a difficult and potentially costly undertaking on the long, heavily residential street.

Lucas’ measure waives the 75 percent provision, which was invoked when other city streets were renamed.

James warned last week that the council ignored the provision at its peril because it could open the city up to legal challenge.

Lucas said that if the 75 percent requirement became a serious legal barrier, he would instead sponsor renaming of Kansas City International Airport, the first choice of the mayor’s advisory group.

Before voting Wednesday, the committee heard from the ministers and other Paseo advocates.

“Pay attention to the people,” said the Rev. Sam Mann, pastor emeritus at St. Mark Union Church, describing wide support for the name change.

The Rev. Scott Myers, pastor at Westport Presbyterian, said the renaming of the airport or 63rd Street were legitimate proposals, but the black community has a special identification with The Paseo.

“It is your moral responsibility, and democratic responsibility to honor the aspirations of the marginalized people of this community,” Myers said.

Only one of the nine members of James’ advisory group spoke at the hearing. Eric Wesson, columnist for The Call newspaper, told the committee that public testimony the group took over its series of hearings showed “overwhelming” support for the airport.

“The will of the people was the airport,” Wesson said.